“If I didn’t work here I would have quit this profession years ago.”

Joanne Dowdall

Jo-Anne Dowdall is the hairdresser at Extendicare Starwood long-term care home.  She is the “Hairdresser to the Stars.” The stars in this case are Starwood’s long-term care residents.

“Lots of people can be hairdressers, but not every hairdresser can work with the elderly”, she says, while quickly removing curlers on a woman who appears to have been asleep since she arrived.  As soon as Jo-Anne finishes the comb-out the woman wakes up and looks in the mirror.  A big smile spreads across her face and she looks over to Jo-Anne.  “Thank-you.”  Jo-Anne smiles back, obviously pleased.  Most of Jo-Anne’s clients don’t (or can’t) say thank-you, so hearing it once in awhile is nice.

Maria is a Starwood Volunteer  Photo used with permission. Copyright JD Cottier

Maria is a Starwood Volunteer
Photo used with permission. Copyright JD Cottier

Maria, a volunteer, brings in the next client, this time a man who can’t support his head on his own and who seems completely unaware of what is happening.  Jo-Anne addresses him by name and tells him what she is doing as she cuts his hair.  “Does he hear you – does he understand?” I ask.  She shakes her head.  “Probably not.”  She shrugs, smiles, and talks to him anyway.

Long-term care homes are reserved for people in the health care system requiring extensive care for the rest of their lives.  Residents may need help with anything from taking their medications to eating, bathing and toileting.

We often think of long-term care homes as reserved for the elderly, but younger people who have had accidents, strokes, or who have  Huntington Disease (HD) or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or other diseases live there too.

Regardless of their age or why they are there, almost everyone needs their hair done. It isn’t necessarily a job most hairdressers would want, yet Jo-Anne has worked with elderly or nursing home residents for twenty years and at Starwood for ten.  She started her career working at a regular salon, but a friend asked her to help out for a couple of days at nursing home and she hasn’t looked back.

“Every day is a challenge when you work with this population, but I do love it.  The hardest part of my job is when one of my residents passes on.  You never get over that.”

“Why do you do it then?” I ask.  “I mean, seeing so many people die…”

“Because I absolutely love my job.  Not just the hairdressing part of it – actually being with these folks – I couldn’t stop.”  She looks up and smiles at a resident waiting her turn.

“When you leave at the end of the day you feel so good.  You have not only done someone’s hair … you know how good these folks feel just by watching the smile on their faces.  It is a really great feeling knowing how good you made them look and feel.”

JoAnne Dowdall poses with a resident in the salon at Extendicare Starwood.  Photo used with permission. Copyright © JD Cottier. All rights reserved

JoAnne Dowdall poses with a resident in the salon at Extendicare Starwood. Photo used with permission.
Copyright © JD Cottier. All rights reserved


7 Responses


    Takes a special person to interact with an elderly person and not only make them feel good, but look good as well. Joanne has the gift of the gab and is a wonderful hairdresser.

  2. D. James

    Very warm article,the portrayal captured a real sense of the hairdresser and her dedication to the residents. And reveals the nourishment everyone receives from touching with care.

  3. Jennifer Palmer

    It’s nice to put a face on the person that makes my mom so happy. Even at 91, she likes to look smart and well dressed and when her hair gets done every week, she’ll preen like a schoolgirl and just smile. Good job. 🙂

  4. emily dowdall martin

    That’s my mom! Great job. you’re good at what you do and it is what i have seen you do since i was born! all the residents there know me very well thanks to you! i will miss a lot of them like molly and rosie the most but i got to know them because i would sit there and watch you do their hair perfectly, like you always do! great job again mom, i love you!

  5. Dwayne Schnob


    What you are doing is a great thing. I’m sure that it makes a huge difference in how the seniors cope with their days.

    Nice work!

  6. Althea Taylor

    I never thought about what it must be like to work with people who are at the end of their lives. I agree with that other comment – Kudos!

  7. F. Farmer

    My dad had to pay for his haircuts, which he got every two weeks where he lived. The staff shaved him, and we didn’t have to pay for that. Even though my dad was in pretty bad shape, having a haircut (or even better, a shave and a haircut) always seemed to put him in a better mood. Makes a big difference even if they don’t really know what is going on.
    Kudos to Joanne.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Secured By miniOrange